With the start of the English cricket season looming, our cricket expert Richard Mann has been assessing the chances of the eight counties in Division One.
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Believe it or not, summer is fast approaching and the Specsavers County Championship begins on Friday.
Like the majority of the warm-up games, the first round of matches in Division One seem sure to be decimated by the current wet spell, a comment that could also be made about the Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire squads.
Having lost the services of Chris Read, Brett Hutton, Michael Lumb and Brendon Taylor at the end of last year, Nottinghamshire have been rocked further by the news that new singing Paul Coughlin will miss much of the season with a shoulder injury while Alex Hales will play white-ball cricket only.
Ross Taylor, for the early part of the season at least, and Chris Nash, have arrived to bolster the batting while Jake Ball and Mark Footitt could form a potent pace attack with Luke Fletcher’s welcome return to full training another boost for the outlaws.
Samit Patel and Riki Wessels will again be relied on heavily with the bat while wicket-keeper Tom Moores is expected to step into the huge shoes vacated by Read.
Yorkshire must do without the services of Adil Rashid in the County Championship this summer while late IPL call-ups for Liam Plunkett and David Willey have left Gary Balance shorn of two of his more experienced performers.
With Ryan Sidebottom bringing the curtain down on an outstanding career at the end of last season, Yorkshire’s bowling will again centre on Ben Coad who took 50 wickets in a breakthrough campaign last term.
Coad and Jack Brooks will lead the attack while big things will be expected of Matthew Fisher, an exciting young talent who has been held back by a troublesome hamstring since making his championship debut back in 2015 but whose potential, for Yorkshire and England, remains huge.
Cheteshwar Pujara will fill the overseas batting spot before Kane Williamson’s arrival later in the season while Ballance, the promising Harry Brook and Adam Lyth – who must surely still harbour England ambitions – will need to score heavily if Yorkshire are to improve on their poor 2017 campaign.
Essex, the 2017 champions, will begin the defence of their crown with the news that last year’s leading wicket-taker Jamie Porter is back to full fitness following a stress fracture in his back.
New Zealand paceman Neil Wagner and off-spinner Simon Harmer can be expected to provide excellent support to Porter while England batsman Alistair Cook will be available for a chunk of the early championship fixtures.
The batting remains powerful with experienced campaigners Ryan ten Doeschate and Ravi Bopara still turning in strong performances and it is fair to assume that Essex will enjoy another good season.
Lancashire enjoyed an excellent run when finishing second in the table last year but how much they will see of James Anderson remains to be seen and old hand Graham Onions will need to be at his very best in the early part of the campaign.
Opening bowler Kyle Jarvis has returned to Zimbabwe so that should allow the youngster Saqib Mahmood plenty of opportunities, though experienced hands Tom Bailey and Stephen Parry remain crucial parts of the attack.
Keaton Jennings is an excellent signing at the top of the order and with Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Liam Livingstone sure to contribute plenty of runs, Lancashire should be safe again, for all they might struggle to challenge for the title.
If Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire have holes to fill, Surrey certainly do with the loss of the great Kumar Sangakkara leaving a huge void.
From only ten games, Sangakkara made 1491 runs at an astonishing average of 106.50 in 2017, much the best on the county cricket, and the form of new captain Rory Burns will again be crucial to their season.
How much county cricket Mark Stoneman plays will be another key factor in their batting but the recent signing of Morne Morkel will mean that a bowling attack that already contains the Curran brothers and Jade Dernbach will remain potent.
Young spinner Amar Virdi is a fine talent and his progress will be followed with interest in the coming months.
Last year’s Division Two winners Worcestershire having some exciting young cricketers in their ranks, notably Josh Tongue and Joe Clarke.
Both are on England’s radar but veterans Daryl Mitchell and skipper Joe Leach have been consistent Worcestershire performers for a number of years now and they will need to lead from the front again if they are to keep themselves out of trouble.
Leach could prove a real handful early in the season, with the wickets expected to be offer plenty for the seamers, and all-rounder Ed Barnard is another who can make the ball talk when there is something on offer for the bowlers.
Worcestershire are due to kick off their campaign against Hampshire in Southampton on Friday with James Vince leading a talented squad at the Ageas Bowl.
South African Hashim Amla will join Vince, Rilee Roussouw, Jimmy Adams and new recruit Sam Northeast to form what looks a particularly strong batting group.
The top six has the potential to be one of the most intimidating in the competition and with Vince sure to be hungry for runs as he bids to secure his position in the England side, and the excellent Northeast moving to the club to bolster his own international ambitions, there is lots to like.
Fidel Edwards and Kyle Abbot will lead a bowling unit that should include the services of Dale Steyn for a short period later in the summer and with spinners Mason Crane and Liam Dawson also in the ranks, Hampshire should be able to build on their fifth-placed finish in 2017 with this squad appearing to have the depth to cover possible international call-ups.
Essex apart, Hampshire might have more bases covered than most and at 8/1, they look worth a play with so many of the division's other counties having to rebuild their squads following the loss of key players.
Hampshire, on the other hand, have clearly strengthened their hand over the winter and the possibility of Steyn playing some four-day cricket, if only for a short period, should prove a great tonic for the club.
Somerset are one of the others counties to have endured a troubled preparation; they have lost overseas batsman Cameron Bancroft following the ball-tampering scandal and will once again look to club stalwarts Marcus Trescothick and James Hildreth to score the bulk of their runs.
Neither looked the force of old last summer and that suggests Somerset could find the going tough again, though the Overton brothers – when not required by England – will lead a well-balanced attack that features Jack Leach and Lewis Gregory.